Thursday, April 25, 2013

Worship Revisited

My friend Jason Clark presented a brilliant paper at the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference last week in Anaheim. He shared it with me and I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of days. The title of the paper is:

Worship as re-narration: The unique problems and possibilities of Charismatic Evangelical Worship in late capitalist society.

Jason is British, which means that it took me a long time to read the paper because there were very long words that replaced the American Z with a British S, causing me to stop and stare, making vain attempts at re-interpretation, and then falling asleep and waking hours later, wondering where I was. But I finally got through it.

Recognizing that Evangelicalism (including the charismatic brand) has fallen on hard times, he takes a look at the deep structure of it and suggests that we might be throwing out babies with bathwater if we jettison evangelical worship because it sometimes appears shallow and consumeristic, and assume that authenticity can only be found in alternative ecclesiastical settings (or lack of setting altogether).

I’ve frequently lamented the trend to link the word evangelical with various American voting blocks or with bands of anti-everything lunatics. I also think that to reduce evangelical to a hard-edged proselytizing movement or as cousins to fundamentalism are insufficient characterizations (although sometimes deserved).

We get the word evangelical from a biblical Greek word that means good news. It comes from ancient military language that describes the message and messenger that brings the announcement that a battle has been won. But in relation to God, good news is about God’s rule and reign. So, Isaiah can say,

How beautiful upon the mountains
 are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (52:7)

And Jesus can say, citing Isaiah 61,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)

The word evangelical, when linked to the biblical concept of good news, moves away from claims to cultural, political, and religious power or pragmatic instrumentalism and moves toward authentic worship of God and witnesses to the present reality of his kingdom.

When the word charismatic is added into the mix, there is an expectation that this is not about mere information or function—it is about the ongoing work, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ (see Romans 8:9-11).

The problem with worship in the evangelical/charismatic context is that it has often been limited to music or to particular ecstatic phenomena. But in other contexts it has been limited to the Eucharist, the sermon, or detachment from organized religion altogether.

I think what my friend Jason (which, in America, would be spelled Jazon), is communicating is not that evangelical/charismatic brands of worship have it all together, but rather that there is imbedded in the essence of that shared ecclesial life and theology the potential for reframing the holistic, expansive, and truly spiritual nature of worship.

I would love to see worship expressed in corporate gatherings in music and song, reflection on the scriptures, prayers of the people, ministry of the Spirit, prophetic utterances, confession and thanksgiving, fellowship and friendship, generosity and care, Eucharist, blessing, and sending.

The only problem with my idea is that church services would last four or five hours each week. I’m not sure our cultural embeddedness would allow for that, not to mention the tragedy of missing lunch. Although, if the Lord’s table became a table of a true, shared meal, where all would come at the invitation of Jesus, then everything would work out just fine.

I’ll get back to you on that one.

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